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Pneumonia in the Elderly: Prevention is Key

Our elderly loved ones can become more susceptible to certain bacterial or viral infections like pneumonia. In fact, along with having a weakened immune system, age is one of the most common risk factors for pneumonia. Plus, once a senior has this condition, recovery can be quite difficult and take a long time; complications can easily arise, and over 60% of seniors get admitted to the hospital due to pneumonia. This is why preventing pneumonia in the elderly is vital to keep them healthy this time of year.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a potentially serious lung infection that can strike without warning, disrupting an infected person’s life for weeks with a potential for hospitalization in severe cases. Bacterial pneumonia is unlike a cold or the flu. It’s caused by a common bacterium, Streptococcus pneumoniae.

What Causes Pneumonia?

People over the age of 65 tend to be more susceptible to pneumonia due to the fact that lung capacity changes with age. Pneumonia can be spread form person to person through coughing or close personal contact so Seniors who live in a community setting can be more at risk for contracting it due to the closeness of the quarters and increased exposure to those who may already be sick.

Pneumonia can be caused by both bacteria or viruses like influenza, and sometimes even predisposing conditions like diabetes or cardiopulmonary disease can put the elderly more at risk. Seniors can become infected by pneumonia by breathing in infected air particles, and often it becomes a complication from a viral illness.

Pneumonia Prevention Tips for the Elderly

Preventing pneumonia in the elderly is possible, provided you take some extra precautionary measures. Here are a few ways to make sure your elderly loved on is staying healthy throughout the winter and lowering their risk for pneumonia:

  • Be familiar with the symptoms of pneumonia. Coughing, chest pain, chills, fever, shortness of breath, and fatigue are all symptoms of pneumonia to watch for in your elderly loved one. However, some seniors may not display these symptoms, so also be on alert for signs of confusion, weakness, dizziness or delirium. Head to the doctor right away if your loved one is showing any unusual symptoms.
  • Make sure they’re washing their hands. You may need to remind your loved one to wash their hands often throughout the day or to use antibacterial hand gel. Keeping hands clean can help reduce the spreading of germs through touch.
  • Maintain good dental hygiene. Tooth and gum diseases are also a known cause of pneumonia in the elderly, so brushing and flossing is a must. Make sure your loved one is taking good care of their teeth and gums.
  • Practice healthy habits. Encourage your loved one to stay physically active and eat healthy foods; the healthier they are, the stronger their immune system will be. If your loved one smokes, it’s definitely time to quit; smoking is a major risk factor for pneumonia as it harms the lungs’ ability to defend themselves against an infection.
  • Try to avoid individuals who are ill. Of course, in a senior living community, it may be difficult to avoid other residents suffering from illnesses like the flu or common cold. But when your loved one is around others who are ill, they are more at risk for getting ill themselves and for that illness to develop into pneumonia.
  • Vaccinations are available for some forms of pneumonia. Vaccines are available that can provide protection from up to twenty different strains of pneumonia. Talk to your doctor or your pharmacist to find out if getting a preventative shot is right for you or your loved one.

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